State and private school university approaches compared

Times Higher Education, 30/12/14, University of Sussex researchers, explore the “differentiated patterns of HE application” which distinguish independent from state schools.

To throw light on the issue, Máiréad Dunne, Russell King and Jill Ahrens collected data from 1,400 Year 13 students in 18 Sussex and Leicestershire schools and carried out in-depth interviews with 15 teacher higher education advisers.

In every case, they sought information about the types of institutions the pupils applied to; “the way the application process was managed”; and how advisers “explained the HE application process and outcomes for their students”. They then compared the findings from the 11 independent and seven state schools.

The results are set out in an article in the November 2014 issue of Studies in Higher Education, “Applying to higher education: comparisons of independent and state schools”.

While both types of school “showed appreciation of experiences outside the formal curriculum”, those within the independent sector showed “a more concerted and co-ordinated effort to provide these experiences and capitalise on them”.

More generally, “independent schools assume a HE career for their students, invest more resources, start the process earlier, are more proactive in increasing their students’ capital and aspire to get their students into higher-status universities and courses”.

In state schools, by contrast, “the approach to HE applications appeared to be less ambitious even for the high achieving students”, which only works to legitimise arbitrary “relations within and between the educational and social hierarchies”.

The evidence they present, the authors conclude, has important implications for those committed to widening access.

“An individualised approach to improving examination performance and encouraging less privileged students to apply” will never be enough without taking account of the social factors which influence “the production of individual choices”.

It remained crucial to “shift the narrow focus of state schools, teachers and pupils beyond only the examinations”.

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